A Talk With Coach K for The RedBull Music Festival
In Atlanta, there is a lot of those that are just itching to get their big break into the music industry. And while they all may have a dream and the hunger, they may not know how to navigate in the right direction to satisfy that hunger for success. For the last two weeks, we’ve been traveling all through the A for the RedBull Music Festival and have met all kinds of aspiring songwriters, rappers, singers, musicians, A&Rs, and even managers. Basically, anybody who’s ready to become the next big thing has been scouring around the city, making connections, soaking up important information, all while enjoying the festivities.
We’ve reached our next stop at the Plaza Theatre off Ponce de Leon and though the temperatures have been dropping, we were still in a hot treat. RedBull got a chance to get into the mind of artist manager, COO of Quality Control Music, and our favorite coach of the rap game, Kevin “Coach K” Lee. Hosted by music journalist Christina Lee who was previously a part of the Music Industry Perspectives Panel, she asks K to detail how he went from attending studio sessions to pursue his passion for music management to being co-founder one of the hottest labels that in only six years has managed to house radio powerhouses including Migos, Lil Yatchy, Lil Baby, City Girls, and even UK’s very own Stefflon Don.
To kick the conversation off, Lee asked Coach K about his upbringing in Minneapolis. He told us how his mother placing him in basketball and football programs gave him lifelong love and lessons earned from sports. “Sports taught me so much. It taught me about comradery. It taught me about team. It taught me about life.” When asked how does he take his love for sports into managing artists, K gives us a simple answer: game-planning. “I like to plan things out. And I tell all the new artists that this game that we in is a marathon, not a sprint. If you give me the time and energy and you put the work in, I can take you through there.” A man who truly believes in the development of his artists.
From traveling through the Atlanta hotspots such as Club 559 and The Bounce while in college to permanently moving there in ‘95, K sought out to pursue his passion first as an A&R but then after seeing how artists would come to him for advice about sectors in the business such as booking shows and contract splits, he started devoting more time into music management. Coach K, who was still Kevin at the time, got his first big break in managing while mentoring a young, upcoming artist/producer who was known as “Lil J.” By telling the story of how consistent coaching through studio sessions helped build up J’s confidence and how he made J believe in himself as a rapper, it was revealed how he actually gave him a new rap name, Young Jeezy, and in turn, Jeezy turned Kevin into “Coach” K.
After successfully getting Jeezy’s music throughout the streets and on the air waves through a collaborative deal that was struck with Diddy’s Bad Boy and Def Jam where Jeezy was signed to despite earlier criticism of the “trap” sound that was unfamiliar (word to the Trap Roundtable), he got on the “chitlin circuit.” Going to every country town possible, dropping off flyers and mixtapes of Jeezy’s music, and eureka, the phone started ringing off the hook. “Shows here and there, the shit was on.” He also touches on the importance of strip clubs and how if you had music to promote, you had to make the strippers your friends because you wanted them to play your music when they go on stage to do their sets.
The strippers are A&Rs too. Some of the dopest A&Rs are strippers
Lee then transitioned to Coach K's first encounter working with Gucci Man on his first hit, “Icy.” “I mean Gucci is probably one of the hardest working artists I’ve ever worked with.” K describes how Gucci gained great rapport with his authenticity with what he spoke about in his records. Coach K put his “coaching” to work by helping clean up Gucci’s brand because he knew the life Gucci previously lived. By expanding the type of genres that Gucci worked with and even helping getting Gucci a role in Spring Breakers, those moments helped to rebrand Gucci into the rapper we get to experience today.
With two big successes already under his belt, he tackled his next big project: managing Migos. He tells how after first hearing songs "Bando" and "FEMA," he knew he was embarking on something big. “The voice texture, the cadence, the tone, the passion, you could hear it all in the music.” By the time they signed to QC, the first YRN tape was basically finished. And though Quavo’s computer had crashed, which meant only three tracks had real mixes on them, YFN is still considered a classic to this day.
In just six years, Coach K and Pee managed to have one of most sought after labels to be signed to this decade, but real success never comes easy. Through the trials and blessings that Coach K has faced throughout navigating the music industry, he’s always shown that he was ready to lead, ready to help his artists, ready to coach them into getting to the next level. His talk sent the inspiring message that artists never achieve success alone, and they shouldn’t have to. As long as you have someone in your corner who believes in your dream as much as you, you are bound to succeed.